Have you ever wanted to obtain empathy? People have asked me on multiple occasions, “How can I obtain leadership empathy?” This is a great question, so let’s talk about leadership empathy.
What is Leadership Empathy?
Before developing leadership empathy, one must understand what it means to have empathy. Here’s a few dictionary definitions of empathy:
- The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. (Google)
- the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; (Merriam-Webster)
- Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. (Wikipedia)
When you have empathy, you can understand, relate to, and feel what others are feeling as if you were in their shoes.
How Does Empathy Relate to Leadership Empathy?
In leadership, you lead others. Those you lead have many things going on in their lives. They go through challenges, trials, and other difficulties.
When one has leadership empathy, they feel for those they lead. They pay close attention to the feelings and thoughts of those they lead. As they are in-tune with others, they change their behavior to help those they lead in the best way for them.
Empathy vs. Sympathy
Often people confuse empathy and sympathy. The website Diffen explains the difference between the two as follows, “Empathy is the ability to experience the feelings of another person. It goes beyond sympathy, which is caring and understanding for the suffering of others. Both words are used similarly and often interchangeably (incorrectly so) but differ subtly in their emotional meaning.”
It goes on to define empathy as, “Understanding what others are feeling because you have experienced it yourself or can put yourself in their shoes.” Diffen defines sympathy as, “Acknowledging another person’s emotional hardships and providing comfort and assurance.”
The differences are subtle but distinguished. Empathy is feeling what another person is feeling and being there in the moment with them. Sympathy is comforting or telling others what feelings can happen when they go through a situation.
I like to think of it as, when I have empathy I have felt or am feeling very similar to others so I can relate to them and their situation. When I have sympathy, I have not felt or been through what others are going through, but I can comfort them the best I can.
How to Develop Leadership Empathy
So how can one develop leadership empathy? On the website success.com it explains,
“Empathy—the ability to recognize and share other people’s feelings—is the most important instrument in a leader’s toolbox, Sinek believes. It can be expressed in the simple words, “Is everything OK?”
It’s what effective leaders ask an employee, instead of commanding “Clean out your desk” when he or she starts slacking off. It’s what you ask a client when a once-harmonious relationship gets rocky. “I really believe in quiet confrontation,” Sinek says. “If you had a good working relationship with someone and it’s suddenly gone sour, I believe in saying something like, ‘When we started we were both so excited, and it’s become really difficult now. Are you OK? What’s changed?’”
First, seek to understand others.
It is human nature to immediately blame others for the problems whenever something goes wrong, changes, or the outcome is not as expected instead of asking questions to gain an understanding.
As Simon Sinek says, we need to ask questions to gain understanding. Ask questions like, “How are you feeling?”, “Is everything okay?”, or “Is there something on your mind?” By asking these questions, we gain a better understanding of what is going on and why behavior has changed.
Second, adjust your leadership approach for those you lead.
Once we know why behavior has changed, we can help others in the way that is most effective for them. We can go outside our comfort zone to help others in the way they will best receive it.
I love the book, 5 Languages of Appreciation, because it explains how people give and receive appreciation. It also explains that we often give appreciation in a way that we like to receive it, but that is different from how others like to receive it. It results in others not feeling your appreciation. This same approach goes for empathy. Change your leadership approach to help those you lead.
When we have leadership empathy, we do our very best to lead in the way that will best be received by others.
Third, pay close attention to the behavior of those you lead.
As you observe the behavior of those you lead, you will learn how they behave in certain situations. You will also recognize when they are acting differently. That helps you to help them more effectively.
When you notice that their behavior changes, ask how they are doing. Find out how their life is going. And, show genuine care for their wellbeing. That will open the lines of communication between you and those you lead.
Fourth, genuinely love and care for those you lead.
The love and care you should have for those you lead is a brotherly or paternal love. Please don’t confuse that for a romantic love. 🙂 Change your heart so you sincerely love those you lead.
How do you do that? Forget about yourself and focus on them. Don’t let yourself become self-absorbed thinking only about what you need and want. Instead, think about the needs of your team. What is best for them? What will help them be more effective? What can you do to make their lives easier by removing stumbling blocks from their paths? Focus on helping them to be their best selves.
Fifth, listen intently to those you lead.
Often we have so much going through our minds that we only half or quarter listen to others when they talk. Instead, focus on active listening. Clear other thoughts from your mind and actively listen to others. Engage in the conversations with others by focusing on listening to them to hear and understand what they are saying.
I’ve heard people say they are not good at remembering names… The truth is that they are often too busy thinking about other things to commit the name to memory. When you hear someone’s name, say it in your head so you can remember it. Then pay close attention to what they are saying.
The same goes for the whole listening experience. Focus all your energies on listening to the conversation so you can gain the most from them.
If you think you can become the ideal empathetic leader overnight, you are likely to be disappointed. You can, however, become more empathetic every day. By following the guidance outlined in this post, you will begin learning empathy.
I encourage you to practice empathy everyday. If you are not involved in daily situations that allow you to practice empathy, seek out opportunities to show more empathy to those you come in contact with.
Show more empathy to the store clerk, the mail delivery person, or a family member. As you do that you will gain empathy little by little until you don’t have to think, you will just be the empathetic leader everyone loves and talks about.
For more posts on empathy, click here!
A Question For You!
What steps have you taken to increase your empathy towards others? How do you show empathy towards others? How have empathetic leaders had a positive impact on you? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!